After the decision of the government on disinvestment of Air India came, the civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Monday said Air India along with Air India Express is a ‘great asset’.
“The newly constituted Air India mechanism, headed by Home Minister, has approved to invite expression of interest from the interested bidders for strategic disinvestment of Air India,” Puri said.
Elaborating on the economic condition of the airlines, he said, “Due to its accumulated debt of around Rs 60,000 Crores the financial position could be described as very fragile and Air India can only be described as being under a debt trap.”
The Government had announced the sale of 100 per cent stake in debt-ridden Air India as it issued the preliminary bid document for the strategic disinvestment. The government has set March 17 as the deadline for submitting an expression of interest.
The Government of India (GOI) has given ‘in-principle’ approval for strategic disinvestment of Air India (AI) by way of the transfer of management control and sale of 100 per cent equity share capital of AI held by GOI which will include the national carrier’s shareholding interest of 100 per cent in AIXL and 50 per cent in AISATS.
“The process that we have initiated today is qualitatively different from what happened in 2018. A lot of things were happening in 2018. The external environment was not entirely conducive and we were short of Lok Sabha election,” civil aviation minister said.
“This time, we’re very clear in our approach,” he added.
Hardeep Singh Puri also assured the employees of Air India who are in fear about their salary after the government’s decision on the airlines. “Employees dues with arrears will be paid by the Air India assets holding company before the closing of the proposed transaction,” the minister said.
Congress leader Kapil Sibal attacked the government over the disinvestment of Air India.
“When governments don’t have money this is what they do. Government of India has no money, growth is less than 5% and millions of rupees outstanding under MNREGA,” Sibal said.
“This is what they will do, sell all the valuable assets we have,” he added.
This is the second time in less than two years that the government has come out with a proposal for selling a stake in Air India, which has been in the red for long.
Since the huge debt had proved unattractive for potential bidders, now, the government has relaxed bidding norms to coax investors to buy the airline. The bidding party will have to bear with only Rs 23,286 crore of the total Rs 60,000 crore debt of Air India.